With their sensitive stomach, chinchillas should steer clear from a long list of foods. Recently, many owners have reported that their chinchillas seemed to enjoy occasional insects as some form of exotic treats.
Do chinchillas eat insects? Yes, chinchillas can eat insects if presented in moderation. The concept itself isn’t wrong since wild chinchillas consume insects every once in a while. However, it stands to reason that such a diet won’t be risk-free.
What are the possible risks? That’s what I’ll discuss in this article. Let’s get going!
First Things First, What Do Wild Chinchillas Eat
I know what you’re probably thinking: As an owner of a domesticated chinchilla, why bother about wild ones? Well, Mother Nature sure knows best. If wild chinchillas thrive on a particular diet, pet chinchillas shouldn’t stray too far off that diet.
A group of scientists at the University of Los Lagos, Chile, took it upon themselves to study the engendered chinchillas in Chile. They found that 60% of the chinchillas’ diet consists of fibrous food, such as hay, dry grass, woody shrubs, and even soft bark. The remaining percentage contains varying amounts of vegetables, fruits, seeds, and insects.
It’s All About The Habitat
Studying the plants that chinchillas eat on a regular basis was particularly interesting for those scientists. As it turns out, chinchillas have an absolutely wide diet that varies considerably in the texture, hardness, nutritional value, etc.
For instance, chinchillas were observed eating “Puya berteroniana”, a type of succulent plants. This species is usually covered with thin thorns that resemble those of cacti. They were also seen eating “Bridgesia incisifolia”, a hardy shrub that has scanty leaves.
Scientists believe that chinchillas had to eat all of this exotic stuff in order to survive the rather arid lands of Chile. If they choose to turn their nose up, their puny bodies would be easy prey for the whopping amount of hunters and fiercer animals.
Then what about insects? Scientists aren’t exactly sure about the time at which insects were incorporated into the diet. They believe, however, that it must’ve happened during long dry seasons that had killed a substantial amount of the previously mentioned plants. In other words, it wasn’t but a try to cope with extreme diet scarcity.
The Surprising Nutritional Value Of Insects
Insects don’t look that appetizing, that’s for sure. However, animals don’t seem to care about the looks: Poultry, pigs, fish, and dozens of other animals gobble insects on a daily basis.
Although they look tedious, insects provide a rich amount of proteins, fats, minerals, and vitamins. Insect larvae, in particular, are proven to have the highest nutritional value with respect to their size. No wonder Timon and Pumbaa took a liking for those juicy species!
One of the things that make insects super special is their impeccable feed conversion rate. In simpler words, this means that insects are able to convert the food they eat into the highest amount of consumable nutrients. That’s why they’re thought to be more useful than livestock!
Dangers Of Eating Insects
Alright, now that you know that insects aren’t only edible but also super nutritious, should you grab a serving and put it in your chinchilla’s cage? Well, it’s better to hold your horses for now. Eating insects have a fair amount of risks that can seriously harm your lovely pet.
High Possibility Of Infection
It doesn’t take a scientist to understand that insects might be loaded with all sorts of filthy pathogenic bacteria. Look at their diet, for one: They thrive on decaying matter, rotten food, animal carcasses, and even feces! That’s why you should never eat food that flies have landed upon.
Contrary to common belief, farmed bugs aren’t risk-free either. Yes, you can be in control of what they eat, but you can’t be 100% sure about the presence of bacteria. If you’re not careful with every step, a small bacterial focus can rapidly multiplicate without you knowing. By extension, large-scale commercial insect farms can’t always be dependable.
We Don’t Know Anything About Insect Allergy
Let’s assume that you found a magical way that guarantees completely germ-free bacteria. Would it be fine for your chinchilla to eat them? Not necessarily. Food allergies aren’t exclusive for humans; animals might have it too.
The worst thing is, we don’t know anything about eating insects. After all, no one could ever imagine that harmless foods like eggs, shellfish, nuts, and milk can be extremely hazardous for some people.
That’s why you shouldn’t blindly trust the experience of other chinchilla owners. Every chinchilla has a unique set of genes that may impose a strikingly different list of allergies.
Insects Might Have “Anti-Nutrients”
Despite being highly nutritious, the bodies of some insects may have substances called “anti-nutrients”. As the name implies, these substances interfere with the process of digestion, thereby reducing the number of nutrients that chinchillas would finally absorb.
The exoskeleton of most insects was proven to contain “chitin”, one of the most important anti-nutrients.
But to be fair, consuming insects in moderation shouldn’t pose a major risk: Low chitin levels will hardly impair the absorption of a negligible amount of food.
Some Insects Can Be Poisonous
In order to fend off predators, many insects have evolved to spout deadly toxins in cases of danger. And just like the allergies, we don’t have enough knowledge about which is poisonous and which is edible.
For instance, some species of beetles release a steroid that can cause some serious problems for humans: We’re speaking about things like growth retardation, infertility, or even masculinization of females. Bees and ants also have different toxins that can leave comparable side effects.
Sadly, there’s not enough research that studies the negative effects on chinchillas. But considering that we’re both mammals, it’s logical to expect a similar reaction.
Moderation Is Key
If insects pose all of the aforementioned risks, then how come animals eat them without problems? Or, should we ask, how can wild chinchillas consume them? It’s all about moderation.
Like I said earlier, wild chinchillas don’t depend on insects as a major part of their diet. They only resort to them in sudden arid seasons.
Animals who eat insects on a regular basis are a whole different story. Their bodies have evolved special mechanisms that rid them from any harmful components, letting them benefit from the rich nutrients.
What Bugs Can Chinchillas Eat
To be clear, I don’t recommend giving insects to your pet chinchilla. But if you decided to do it, here are some of the safest species.
Crickets have a high percentage of iron, proteins, and vitamin B12. Much to my surprise, some people bake with cricket powder (made from ground crickets) as a low-carb alternative to regular flour!
Grasshoppers can be considered as the distant cousins of crickets. They’re also high in protein and iron. And again, countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia consume huge amounts of grasshoppers on a daily basis. As strange as it may sound, a kilogram of grasshoppers costs more than beef in Uganda!
In the US, termites do nothing but ruin our wooden furniture. But in Africa, they heavily participate in the daily diet. They provide a unique balance between fatty acids, proteins, calcium, and iron.
The Final Word
Do chinchillas eat insects? Technically, yes. But I wouldn’t encourage it. It’s true that insects present a high nutritious value, but they pose an equally high number of risks. And after all, your precious chinchilla can suffice by eating the risk-free hay.
If you still want to serve insects, stick to the species that are known to have the least risks.